This Doctor Can: The SAS way of life

Dr Krystyna Darasz, associate specialist in cardiology, talks about her decision to become an SAS doctor.

I have just turned 60 and have been working in the NHS for 35 years. I’m proud to be an associate specialist in cardiology. 

If you’d told me, as a rosy-cheeked young girl, that my life would take me in such a direction, I’d probably have given you a disbelieving look or three. My ambition at the time was to become a science teacher, and as a young girl growing up in Bolton I frequently played ‘teacher’ with the kids on my street. I took it incredibly seriously, procuring a toy blackboard and chalk, and totally living my dream. 

My dad served in the Polish Army during World War II, was a POW, and ended up in England, where he later met my Polish mum. Marriage and a family followed. Ours was a completely Polish-speaking household, so I knew nothing of the English language until I went to primary school aged four — it’s a good thing that young children are so quick to pick up a foreign language!

I remember being gently warned at my interview not to entertain any 'funny ideas' about switching from my chosen degree course to study Medicine [...] Naturally, after 3 months, that’s exactly what I did!

Dr Krystyna Darasz

Once I had a good grasp of the English language, I started to do well at school, developing a love for biology. It all led to a successful university application to study natural sciences. 

I remember being gently warned at my interview not to entertain any 'funny ideas' about switching from my chosen degree course to study medicine, because although there did exist a transfer to medicine course, places were extremely limited. (Maybe that’s when the idea first took hold?). Naturally, after 3 months, that’s exactly what I did, having realised that I enjoyed human biology far more than lectures on bivalve molluscs. And so, by this somewhat tortuous and lucky route, I became a proper medic.

Earlier this year I was elected to the fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians, a supremely special moment.

Dr Krystyna Darasz

Initially my NHS career was fairly conventional and I became thrilled by cardiology. Through the patience of my long-suffering husband I completed a doctorate, and my two great sons came along. I innocently assumed that one day I could aspire to an NHS consultant career, but securing a senior registrar training post compatible with my family life proved too difficult for me.

Over the next few years, I acquired specialist practical skills in echocardiography and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and morphed quietly into an associate specialist cardiologist with a much-loved interest in cardiac imaging, working part-time. Earlier this year I was elected to the fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians, a supremely special moment.

For me, the path to a very happy career has been forged in the crucible of SAS, as an associate specialist. It’s allowed me to continue my career while bringing up my family.

As time passed and spaghetti hoops ceased to be such a central part of my life, I was able to increase my working hours and develop a job plan which contained more of the things that I love and am good at (cardiac imaging) and less of the things I am not so good at (management). That flexibility is part of what makes an SAS career such a positive and great thing and something to be cherished. You need help from supportive senior colleagues, staying power and a spot of good luck! But when you put your mind to it, all doctors can!

Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan.